Road trip ends in Knoxville

Game 45: Mississippi RiverKings (25-17-2) vs. Knoxville Ice Bears (26-16-3)

6:35 p.m., Knoxville Civic Coliseum, Knoxville, Tennessee

The Mississippi RiverKings play the final game of a three-in-three road trip as they face the Knoxville Ice Bears tonight at the Knoxville Civic Coliseum. It's the sixth and final match of the season series. The Ice Bears have won four of the first five games of the season series, although the RiverKings won the last one, Dec. 18 in Knoxville.

Tonight was supposed to be the final game of a three-in-three for the Ice Bears, but their Thursday match in Huntsville was postponed because of weather, so it will be just the second game of the week for Knoxville. They beat Huntsville last night, 4-1, to start the week.

The RiverKings have lost back-to-back games for the first time since they had a five-game losing streak Nov. 28-Dec. 7. Still, the RiverKings are 8-2-0 in their last 10 games entering play tonight. They are two points behind Columbus and Pensacola for third place and three points behind Knoxville for second.

Broadcast Coverage

Hibu RiverKings Pregame at 6:30 p.m.

Radio: Sports 56/87.7 FM

Streaming: Pay-to-watch video on SPHL Live 

Last time out

The Columbus Cottonmouths rolled out to a 3-0 lead in the first period and the RiverKings comeback bid fell just short in a 5-4 loss at the Columbus Civic Coliseum Friday night.

The Cottonmouths got two goals in 20 seconds, one on a power play by Shawn Bates and then on a breakaway by Craig Simchuk, to grab a 2-0 lead at 7:39 of the first period. Matt Whitehead then scored on a penalty shot for the RiverKings, but after a discussion between the referee and linesmen it was waived off after they said he touched the puck twice. Will Aide made made it 3-0 at 17:51 of the first.

Both sides scored twice in the second period. Mississippi got goals from Whitehead and Ryan Marcuz, but both times the RiverKings scored the Cottonmouths answered right back. They got goals from Louis Belisle and Ben O'Quinn in the second.

The RiverKings tried to mount a comeback in the third. Reid Campbell started the third period scoring at 6:21 with a shot from the left circle. Less than two minutes later Marcuz got his second of the game to get the RiverKings within one at 7:56. Moments after that Andrew Randazzo was robbed in front by a sprawling save by Shannon Szabados. She made 21 saves in the third and 48 in the game for the win.

Scouting the Ice Bears

The Ice Bears snapped a three-game losing streak with last night's win, but their lead for second place in the standings has been trimmed to just one point. At 26-16-3 they have 55 points, which is one better than the Cottonmouths and Ice Flyers for third and three better than the RiverKings in fifth. All three teams have at least one game in hand on Knoxville and the RiverKings.

The Ice Bears have three scorers over the 40-point plateau, although as a team they are fifth in the league with just 2.93 goals per game. Ryan Salvis is tops on the team with 48 points (11g, 37a), which puts him third in the SPHL. He had four assists last night against Huntsville. Eric Satim (19g, 25a) is second with 44 points, including three (2g, 1a) last night. Francis Drolet (19g, 23a) has 42 points in 38 games, which is third on the team. After those three the next highest active scorer is Jason Price with 20 points (1g, 19a). 

In net, with Braely Torris on loan to ECHL-Greenville since Feb. 10, Bryan Hince has seen most of the action recently. In 27 games he is 13-10-2 with a 2.85 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. Curtis Martinu joined the team Feb. 12 and has appeared in two games for the Ice Bears, losing once.

Special teams

Knoxville's power play was 0-for-3 last night and is 29-for-182 (15.9%) on the season. That puts them fifth in the SPHL with the man advantage. They are 4-for-19 (21.1%) in the season series with the RiverKings, with power-play goals in three of the five games.

The RiverKings have been held off the board on the power play in back-to-back games, although they didn't have a chance Thursday night. After going 0-for-3 last night the RiverKings are 9-for-27 (33.3%). They're still sixth in the SPHL at 14.4% (24-for-167). The RiverKings remain stronger on the power play at home as opposed to on the road. At home the RiverKings are 16-for-100 (16.0%), while on the road they are just 8-for-67 (11.9%).

The Ice Bears are down to seventh in the SPHL on the penalty kill, going 4-for-5 last night against Huntsville. On the season they are at 83.7% (139-for-166). The Ice Bears are last in the league on the kill at home (81.7%), but best on the road (86.3%). They have given up 17 power-play goals at the Knoxville Civic Coliseum.

The RiverKings penalty has moved to fourth in the SPHL, after going 4-for-5 on the kill last night in Columbus. They are 10-for-11 in three games this week. They have successfully killed 84.5% (125-for-148). They had gone eight straight games without allowing a power-play goal before last night and they are 27-for-29 (93.1%) in the last 10 games. This is the best stretch of the season for the RiverKings penalty killing unit. 

Posted by Lukas Favale at 2:30 PM

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PEO y-Peoria 56 38 13 5 81
MAC x-Macon 56 33 16 7 73
PEN x-Pensacola 56 33 16 7 73
HUN x-Huntsville 56 30 16 10 70
KNX x-Knoxville 56 30 20 6 66
EVV x-Evansville 56 27 20 9 63
MRK x-RiverKings 56 29 25 2 60
RKE x-Roanoke 56 26 26 4 56
BIR Birmingham 56 22 28 6 50
FAY Fayetteville 56 12 38 6 30
Full Standings

Updated: April 8, 2018

x-Clinched Playoff Berth
y-Clinched Regular Season Title